There are two operational modes, DAC or preamp, which can be set from within the “Outp” main menu. In the “Mode” sub-menu, select the “DAC” setting to bypass the volume control and emulate a fixed-output-level DAC. I tested the 212se in both DAC and digital preamp modes. As a digital pre, the 212se did spectacularly well in the context of balanced power amplification, connected directly to the Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks, scoring high marks for natural timbre and resolution of low-level detail. However, for a showdown with the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC that RH raved about recently, I set the 212se to DAC mode and ran both units through a line preamp. According to RH, the $2300 Yggy is one of the three best DACs he’s heard regardless of price, and being based on a 20-bit R2R chipset it makes for a sharp technical contrast with the 212se. I was truly looking forward to this particular shootout, especially since the sample Mike Moffat sent me incorporated the latest software tweaks. Taking a lead from RH, who let the Yggy sit in his rack powered up for a full month, I decided to do even better and let it cook for six weeks before attempting serious listening. When my Yggy finally woke up from its sonic slumber, I quickly realized that RH wasn’t kidding when he says that the Yggy is in many ways competitive with any DAC he has heard regardless of price and one of the three best DACs he has auditioned to date, the other two being the $19,500 Berkeley Alpha Reference and the $35,000 dCS Vivaldi.
This showdown proved to be most illuminating, and while at the end of the day I felt it to be a battle between near equals, there were significant voicing differences that could tip the scales one way or the other depending on one’s preferences and system context. First, let me describe common ground. Both units excel in detail retrieval and feature exceptional transient response, not only at the point of attack but also in facilitating decay with an exceedingly low noise floor. Ditto for lower midrange tonal conviction and deep bass solidity. However, the Yggy’s voicing is bold, assertive, and at times a bit forward. As a consequence, it comes across with greater rhythmic drive, a touch more clarity, and a heightened sense of interplay between orchestral sections. The 212se, on the other hand, produced a sunnier vocal band, sweeter textures, and an overall more relaxed presentation. As such it brought me closer to the vacuum-tube experience that is within my listening comfort zone. Yet there’s no denying that with up-tempo musical selections the Yggy produced a more exciting and visceral listening experience. However, where delicacy and textural finesse were required, the 212se offered a more satisfying musical rendition.
To my mind, the 212se’s most accomplished sonic attribute was its ability to resolve spatial information, though this was most evident when it was used as a digital preamp. I’ve yet to hear more precise image outline focus or refined layering of the depth perspective. A case in point is George Karr’s Adagio d’Albinoni, a 1981 doublebass recording at Japan’s Takarazuka City Vega Hall, which I’ve probably listened to more often than I should. The performance has some technical issues, but the recording’s sense of space and lower midrange authority are spectacular. The 212se managed to capture the harmonic bloom of Karr’s vintage Amati in spectacular fashion. Not only that, but its plush layering of the soundstage left no doubt about the placement of the Amati doublebass in relation to the pipe organ accompaniment. This is a good time to mention definition of bass lines. Deep and mid bass lines were reproduced with exemplary clarity. There was never any confusion about pitch definition. Of course, this was also a function of the associated speakers and power amp, but in the context of the reference system it was quite easy to resolve the timbre of the 8- and 16-foot organ pipes.
If someone had told me a few months ago that I would be embracing a sigma-delta DAC I would have thrown a couple of spuds at them. But keep in mind that in my experience there’s a narrow path toward optimal sound, which involves selection of the slow roll-off filter and a Qsize setting of 7. So configured, I find the DiDit 212se to be enormously compelling musically, so much so, that it is currently my favorite DAC/pre. Make no mistake about it, this is a major endorsement by a reviewer who was for years dogmatically attached to R2R DACs. I think I’ll be taking my dogma out for a walk about now. Be sure to give it a listen. I think that you’ll be as amazed as I was by the musical prowess of the 212se.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Digital preamp
Inputs: Coaxial (x2), TosLink (x2), USB
Outputs: Unbalanced on RCA jacks
Weight: 2.7 kg
Dimensions: 21.2 x 5 x 21.2cm
DIDIT HIGH-END, BV
Reeweg 12 - 6
NL-1394 JD Nederhorst den Berg
TWIN AUDIO VIDEO (U.S. Distributor)
Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-130, Watkins Stereo Generation Four.
Power amplifiers: Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks
Digital sources: MacBook Pro laptop running Amarra V3.04 software. ModWright modified Sony XA-5400ES SACD player used as a transport
Preamplifiers: Experience Music AVC, Blue Velvet DIY and Schiit Audio Freya line preamps
Cables: Acrotec, FMS Nexus-2, and Kimber Select interconnects, Acoustic Zen Hologram II speaker cable
Power: Monarchy Audio AC-Regenerator, Sound Application power line conditioners